Thailand’s generals, who seized power in a military coup in May to end increasingly violent political turmoil, are hell-bent on imposing happiness on the population. FRANCE 24 reports from Bangkok.
After relaxing some of the curfews that threatened Bangkok’s vital tourist trade, and giving the country free access to the football World Cup on terrestrial TV, the country’s soldiers are taking to the streets with a message of joie de vivre.
Several times a week since the coup, the junta has organised large street parties in the capital, complete with free food and medical care, in a bid to win over the population.
"We are very happy,” one reveler told FRANCE 24. “Most Thai people are very satisfied that the army is trying to solve the problem before we have an election. Maybe they'll need a year or a year and a half, but that doesn't matter."
Junta leader’s sentimental ballad
On the streets of Bangkok, there seems to be some genuine optimism and hope for a literal “Return to Happiness in Thailand”, the title of a sentimental ballad written by junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Achieving this happiness is going to be a challenge in the long term, as arrests, censorship and curfews remain a daily reality for most Thais.
Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, spokesman for the junta which titles itself the “National Council for Peace and Order”, told FRANCE 24 that genuine happiness was vital to the generals’ bid to institute meaningful and lasting social reform.
“We want to gain trust and confidence,” he said, explaining that street parties were a way for the army to connect with the people, even the “Red Shirts” movement, which supports ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
“People would not listen to one another in the past. Everything they do is in order to win against each other. But this time we just want to create the atmosphere in which people listen to one another.”
‘Methods worthy of the Gestapo’
FRANCE 24 visited a neighbourhood shopping mall that was a popular zone for the Red Shirts, where happiness and optimism were in short supply.
A bookseller, one of the few traders still present at the mall, told FRANCE 24: “The Thai military can say what they want. These are the methods of dictators. It's not by organizing parties and concerts throughout the country that we are going to solve our problems. People might not be saying anything, but deep in their hearts, they hate the coup."
It’s a sentiment shared by Chuwat Rerksirisuk, Editor-in-Chief of news site Prachatai and a well-known advocate of free speech.
"This is a time bomb,” he said. “The more the junta tries to suppress people's rights, the more anger they will create. This is a strategy of psychological warfare; organizing parties with guns to their heads, and censoring, stopping and controlling everything with methods worthy of the Gestapo."